caregiving, life after 50, boomer women, aging

Tomorrow I will say good-bye to my mom. She passed away this week. She was 91 years old and lived a very full life. But I am sad. Selfishly, I wanted her to live forever…or at least as long as I lived so I could remain a kid without admitting to adulthood.

While I have lots of other BFFs, my mom was definitely my oldest and best BFF. Listening, caring, inspiring, sharing, encouraging and always loving – she was there for me – in good times and bad times.

“What’s up with you? How are the kids?” she asked during what would become our last conversation. “Have you found another job yet?” she questioned, knowing that I am about to retire from my 30+ year career in communications next month.

“I’m retiring mom and I hope to take some time off to relax,” I replied. “Oh, I know you. You won’t be relaxing for too long,” she said. She was right, I have a bucket list a mile long for my second act. She was always right. She knew me well.

My mom brought up my sister N (rt) and I to be strong leaders

How do I pay tribute to a mom who filled my life with so much passion? 

I will always remember our summers at the beach – Long Beach, New York – when my sister N and I were growing up. Building sand castles near the water, her dark Bain de Soleil tans, the fireworks on the Fourth of July – she loved summers in Long Beach and so did I. Just a few years ago, when I was preparing to purchase my ‘condo on the corner’ at the Jersey shore, shortly after losing my husband, she was my biggest supporter. Her words of wisdom gave me the courage to take such a big step on my own. “Go for it,” she said. “You’ll enjoy it.” She was right. She was always right. She knew me well.

How do I pay tribute to a mom who instilled a sense of curiosity in my world and a love of education?

She saved all the letters from my college days at Cornell — those were the days before computers and cell phones existed – yes, children actually wrote letters to their parents. Each one said, “I’m leaving. I can’t handle the pressure.” Time went on, four years passed, and I graduated. “You see. You did it,” she said proudly as I walked in my cap and gown to receive my diploma. “I knew you could do it.” She was right. She was always right. She knew me well.

How do I pay tribute to a mom who was smart and well-read?

My mom could finish the crossword puzzle from the Sunday New York Times Magazine. She would work on the puzzle all week and if she missed one or two words, she would check the answers in the following week’s issue. As for reading, even into her 80s and 90s, she was up-to-date on the latest books, oftentimes recommending good reads from the bestseller list before I had a chance to read them. She was a writer too. When we cleaned out her condo, we found all the poems she had written as a young woman. She was a good writer and she was smart, really smart.

How do I pay tribute to a mom who had style and grace?

When I was young I used to play dress up and put on my mom’s pointed toe shoes. She had pointed toe shoes in every color – green satin, pink satin, blue satin, black patent leather – all buried below in boxes in her bedroom closet. Growing up in our small apartment in the Bronx, I so loved to go on our Saturday walks to Fordham Road. On the Grand Concourse was Alexander’s and farther down the street was Loehmann’s. My mom was a fashionista and made me (and my sister N) a fashionista too. (I will miss buying clothes for you mom. But don’t worry – I have made fashionistas of your granddaughter A and your grandson D. And they will carry on the tradition with my future grandchildren. I’ll make sure of that. Yes, I will.)

How do I pay tribute to a mom who brought up her two daughters to be strong leaders?

My sister N and I grew up to be successful women because we had an incredible role model for a mom. A Girl Scout leader, a community activist, a working mom, a dutiful daughter, a caring sister and a compassionate wife, even when my dad took ill in his 50s and 60s – my mom took care and rarely complained. She counseled my sister N and I on how to be good moms to our children too.

How do I pay tribute to a mom who knew how to pick good friends and cherish them?  

She lived the Girl Scout motto, “Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Up until this week, she maintained nearly weekly conversations with her BFF D, who had moved all the way to Portland, Oregon. They had been friends since grade school. But my mom was also good at making new friends. She was the ultimate networker, “the talk of the town” as she told my sister when she returned to her residence this past week. Everyone knew my mom. “She was such a sweet lady,” said her residence manager N.

My mom was curious and passionate throughout her life, including her 80s and 90s

My mom was an independent woman up until two years ago. She lived alone, but was resourceful in finding ways to manage – her cooking, her doctors’ appointments, her cleaning.  But then she took ill, and my sister N and I knew that she needed more help. Change is difficult for anyone, but we convinced her that it was best for her wellbeing to no longer live by herself.

Again, being the resourceful person that she was, my mom found an assisted living residence that she heard was good. When N and I made the arrangements for her new apartment, which included a roommate S, I felt just like I did when I was sending my kids off to college. Her stay included room and board, showers three times a week, exercise classes, a library, weekly shows and monthly trips. “Will mom survive this big change?” my sister N and I wondered.

Well, well, well – what do you think? Yes? Or no?

I know you guessed correctly. My mom not only survived, she thrived in her new environment. Yes, at 89, 90 and up until the past two months when she took ill, she thrived. We even had to limit her activity fees and her hairdresser appointments. “Mom, slow down,” N and I would say, “We don’t go to the hairdresser as much as you do or have as many mani and pedi treatments.” (We did want her to enjoy herself and looking good is an important part of that – so it was  a fine line to draw.)

I’m wearing my pearls today in honor of my mom whose name was Pearl. According to Wikipedia, “The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this, the word pearl has become a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.”

My mom had all those attributes and more. She was a true gem of a mom and a gem of a person. My world will be forever bright because of her. Her love will always shine with me, as will the memories.

I will miss you…love you mom.